The racist in the mirror

Reconciliation seems far off in a country where honesty is spun as treason

If you want to prove Australia is racist, simply say that Australia is racist. Laura Tingle did exactly that last week, with outrage dominating the media cycle, overshadowing the crucial context: last week was the first Reconciliation Week since the country’s failure to enshrine a Voice to Parliament. The week was set aside for truth-telling and meaningful reckoning with the “unfinished business” of reconciliation, yet the scandal over Tingle’s words relegated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices further to the periphery.

The media reaction itself demonstrated the systemic racism they sought to deny exists. Meanwhile Tanya Plibersek’s “Boomer moment” stood as a crude metaphor for the government’s lack of genuine effort on First Nations issues since the referendum, posting a screenshot of her deleted photos folder as her official “Sorry Day” acknowledgment. Despite the No campaign promising myriad alternatives to elevate Indigenous voices, those same campaigners instead sucked up airtime and column inches to stoke a perverse “patriotism”. 

Commentators reeling at the notion that Australia is racist add insult to injury, proclaiming that anyone who points out our flaws must “hate Australia“. This braindead trope argues that it is anti-Australian to acknowledge inequality and push to improve the nation, and to ignore injustice and obstruct positive change is pure love of country. How is denying the pain and experiences of fellow Australians patriotic?

The statistics clearly show what such negligent attitudes enable. Indigenous Australians live eight years less than non-Indigenous Australians. They are incarcerated at a staggering 16 times the rate, comprising 29 per cent of adult prisoners despite being just 3.3 per cent of the population. First Nations children are 10 times more likely to be torn from their families. Suicide rates among Indigenous youth rank the highest in the world.

This is the human toll of systemic racism – the insidious discrimination, marginalisation, and oppression facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across all sectors due to the enduring legacies of racist policies, ideologies, and power structures. To deny systemic racism in the face of overwhelming inequities IS racist. It’s a lose-lose proposition for those desperately clutching the pearls of racial enlightenment while rejecting the plain evidence of racist outcomes perpetuated in this country.

Instead of heeding the calls for a pivotal conversation on reconciliation, the outrage industry stole the limelight. But perhaps reconciliation is already dead. “Stuff ya cupcakes. From here on, we will be accepting reparations. We’re calling it Redistribution Week” popular Gamilaroi presenter Tony Armstrong posted to instagram. Bundjalung and Worimi writer Phoebe McIlwraith stated “I don’t want reconciliation – I want justice“, emblematic of the broader shift amongst First Nations Australians post referendum.

We have had centuries to reconcile and our most recent blunder reminds us that it’s on more than just the government; it’s on the six million who voted yes, and the millions more who voted no while proclaiming there were better ways to close the gap, to be unwavering allies in the fight for First Nations justice. The media too, bears a profound responsibility and must create room for far more truth-telling than pearl-clutching.

We all need to come to terms with the fact that Australia is a racist country, but that doesn’t mean it has to be. To evolve beyond colonial lies, we must heed First Nations truths.

Jack Toohey is a writer and filmmaker.

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